“We want Nova!” echoed throughout the Prudential Center as Seton Hall took down #15 St. John’s earlier in the week. The day finally came and not only did they talk the talk, they walked the walk.
The Pirates came out guns blazing from opening tip-off, putting on a show for the sold-out arena. The swishing sound of the ball plopping seamlessly through the net seemed to happen every time they touched the ball. While the sound of the swish became synonymous with the Pirates, the clamors of the ball bouncing off the rim was the only noise Villanova was making. The Wildcats started off slowly and the Pirates capitalized. Approximately six minutes into the game, Seton Hall found themselves leading 17-3 over the Wildcats. Their shooting woes hung over their heads each time they went to the free throw line. During Seton Hall’s opening run, all of Villanova’s three points came from the line. However, they were only 50% from the line, making three of six attempts.
A layup for Josh Hart with 13:37 remaining in the first half ended the dry spell for Villanova. Their first basket of the game was only a gateway for more to come. Moments later, a corner three pointer for Phil Booth got the Wildcats going. Villanova started to slowly inch back into the game, as Seton Hall began to cool down. While the Pirates started the game 8-for-11 overall, they would finish the half going 3-for-18. During this time, the Wildcats knocked down a few baskets from down town and in the paint to close the gap. They also dominated the boards, grabbing offensive and defensive rebounds to aid the fighting effort. 11 of Villanova’s 24 rebounds came offensively, an aspect of their game that remained strong throughout the game. Pirates’ fans quieted down as the lead dwindled away. With 2:09 remaining, Josh Hart came up big again. This time, he sank a shot from long range to bring Seton Hall’s lead down to three. On the next Villanova possession, JayVaughn Pinkston was fouled. He missed the first, but made the second. The Pirates clung to a two point lead. Desi Rodriguez answered back with a layup for Seton Hall, to pad their lead. Both teams traded empty-handed drives until the first half concluded. Seton Hall took a 31-27 lead into the break.
Villanova came storming out of the locker room to begin the second half. Darrun Hilliard had five first half points. He sank a three pointer to begin the second half and was fouled during the shot. He made the subsequent free throw to complete the four point play and tie the game. Seton Hall was unable to answer back and on the following possession, Ryan Arcidiacono found an open Hilliard for another basket from beyond the arc. The quick seven point swing gave Villanova a 34-31 lead in the first minute of the second half. The Pirates’ head coach Kevin Willard called for a time out to right the ship.
Brandon Mobley came out and sank a mid range jumper, only to be countered by a pair of Daniel Ochefu free throws. Ochefu’s foul shots marked the first time a Wildcat was able to sink both attempts from the free throw line. After exchanging scoreless possessions, Hilliard dunked the ball to extend Villanova’s lead to five. From there, the game took a controversial turn.
After a loose ball was scooped up by Dylan Ennis, Josh Hart kicked and tripped Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado while he was on the floor, causing him to go down. As Hart got up, he appeared to have stepped on Delgado. While the ball was already on the opposite end of the court, the referees did not miss it. The whistle was blown and the game was stopped. As the crowd stood quiet in confusion, a replay on the screen unveiled the truth to the audience. Seton Hall fans were upset and outraged over Hart’s actions, showering him with boos every time he touched the ball or went in and out of the game. Hart was given a flagrant one. Delgado missed both free throws, but Sterling Gibbs made a jumper to cut into Villanova’s lead. Delgado, a freshman, returned to the game and appeared to be okay for the most part. The Wildcats clung onto their lead with all their might, as the Pirates were right behind them. Each team responded to the other, as the pressure rose and the clock winded down. Seton Hall was relentless and it was only a matter of time until they got their break.
Sterling Gibbs knocked down a long three pointer, over the outstretched hand that pressured him along the way. With 6:21 remaining, Gibbs’ basket tied the game for the first time since Hilliard’s four point play earlier in the half. Both teams traded baskets and points as the game came down to the wire. With 1:02 remaining, freshman Khadeen Carrington drove his way to the basket and smoothly finished in traffic to give Seton Hall a two point lead.
On the following possession, Seton Hall gave Villanova a hard time. The Wildcats were restricted to the perimeter, until Kris Jenkins was able to find an opening. With the shot clock winding down, Jenkins went up and was able to draw a foul for Seton Hall’s Jaren Sina. Down by two, with 37 seconds remaining, it was crucial for Jenkins to sink both free throws. Despite Villanova’s struggles from the free throw line, the sophomore calmly sank both free throws. He shut out the noise and gave Villanova a chance to stay in it.
The Pirates had a chance to end it right then and there. They looked to Sterling Gibbs, the one who sent Villanova packing in last season’s Big East Tournament. Jay Wright anticipated it, putting together a series of traps and double teams to make it difficult for the Pirates’ top scorer. He drove in and was unable to sink the layup. After an unsuccessful last second shot to win the game for Villanova, the game headed into overtime.
Both teams struggled to break the ice. The game remained deadlocked at 58, both teams were in the bonus. Darrun Hilliard picked up his fifth foul and fouled out with 3:41 to go. Desi Rodriguez made both free throws to provide the first few points of overtime play. Daniel Ochefu would answer back with a smooth hook shot to tie the game. Both teams looked to milk the clock with long, patient possessions. Villanova would break the tie as Brandon Mobley fouled Josh Hart. It was Mobley’s fifth and final foul. Hart made one of two free throws, only giving Villanova a one point lead. Just as the Pirates’ Carrington did just before overtime, he attacked the basket to give Seton Hall the lead with a layup in traffic.
Ryan Arcidiacono missed the layup on the other end. Seton Hall collected the rebound. On the following drive, Sterling Gibbs missed the dagger from long range, but the ball bounced off the rim and into the hands of Jaren Sina. The offensive rebound was devastating for the Wildcats. The shot clock was now turned off, as Sina got the ball to Carrington. Carrington was quickly fouled with 22.5 seconds remaining and easily made both free throws.
Down by three, Villanova had one last opportunity. The Wildcats turned the ball over on the other end. They would send Jaren Sina to the line, where he would put the game away permanently with two made free throws. The five point lead was just too much to overcome in just eight seconds of play. The final score was 66-61, capping off a week of upsets for the Pirates.
For Villanova, Daniel Ochefu had a monstrous game. The junior center finished with 19 points and a whopping 24 rebounds. Seton Hall could not keep up him. Despite being swarmed by a number of white jerseys, he continued to make baskets and grab rebounds. Darrun Hilliard had 14 points and three steals. The Wildcats finished 5-for-24 (20.8%) from long range and 18-for-58 overall (31%). They were 20-for-35 (57.1%) from the free throw line. It’s crazy to think what a difference one more made free throw in regulation would have on the game.
Sterling Gibbs had a game-high 20 points. Khadeen Carrington added 17 points and three rebounds off the bench. Brandon Mobley had 10 points and six rebounds.
Villanova suffers their first loss of the season. They are now 13-1, and won’t have much time to lick their wounds. There’s no rest for the weary, as they will have another tough game on the road. They will head over to Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night to play St. John’s.